Rosa Bolger 30th October 2020 Blog Communities, Housing & Local Government Share Tweet I had been a West Oxfordshire District Councillor for a year, when I had the opportunity to also stand for Witney Town Council. Through being a District Councillor, I understood how an opposition could shape the policies of the ruling party, so saw how we could achieve more for Witney with more Labour & Co-operative voices on own town council too. Some people may view town councils as a step down but to me it’s of equal importance. As a Co-operator, I believe wholeheartedly in the value of bottom-up politics and in the potential of an empowered community. We led our campaign by focusing on grassroots Labour and Co-operative values and working with our residents to make sure they were part of what we were working towards. We produced the first ever Labour & Co-operative local manifesto, a vision for our town that is ambitious and punches above its weight, it has drive, commitment and creativity. We led community campaigns, fighting for the issues that really affected our town. When a community is heard, they can find unity and their voice is elevated. They saw our care, commitment and hard work and we won their trust – and the people of Witney voted for change! We went from just two seats to taking control of the council. Can you believe it – a Labour and Co-operative controlled council in David Cameron’s back yard! I’m immensely proud to have become the first female leader of this council and encourage all other women who carry similar values to stand for election to make positive change in your community. Yes, at town and parish level, we have limited power, but what we do have is the voice of our community, and it does not get stronger than that. Town and Parish councils are vital for our parties’ success in local government, and ultimately national government, so why aren’t they given more recognition and how can we change this? Small is beautiful. Smaller councils are more local and closer to the people they serve. Place shaping by talking to people where they live and work feels most comfortable and is a proven way of sharing our values. And yet we don’t recognise the value of this – town and parish councillors are not represented by the Association of Labour Councillors and are separate to the Local Government Association. This hugely dampens what we can achieve, but most worryingly, crushes the diversity within our town halls. Town and Parish councillors often do not receive an allowance, and rarely do they receive expenses for their travel and care responsibilities. It seems to be accepted that mothers pay a babysitter to care for their children out of the their own pocket, whether they can afford it or not, so they can have the privilege of carrying out an unpaid role. Surely this limits who we are attracting to sit on our councils, at this most important level of representation. Diversity improves debate, so if we want properly democratic councils, we must do better. The coronavirus pandemic has only made the economic divide in our communities more glaringly obvious. It has punished those in lower paid, unsteady work, those in insecure housing and those with care responsibilities. We must nurture a new bottom up economy, focus on building wealth within our communities and maintain our newfound neighbourhood support networks by being kind and helping each other. Town and Parish councils with co-operative representation are the start of this.